MORGANTOWN - The expected impact of West Virginia's running game in 2014 will be anything but small. Especially, if sophomore-to-be Wendell Smallwood has any say.
"Wendell (Smallwood) is probably our second-best inside receiver right now," head coach Dana Holgorsen said prior to Saturday's second open practice. "Andrew Buie has been doing some of that as well."
Smallwood played in all 12 games as a true freshman, finishing with 221 yards and one touchdown on 39 carries. The Wilmington (Del.) native also hauled in 11 catches for 132 yards.
Not exactly eye-catching numbers, but the 202-pounder did have his moments. But just how many 'moments' will Smallwood enjoy in 2014?
Leading rusher Charles Sims may be gone, but running backs coach Ja'Juan Seider has a loaded backfield when it comes to possible ballcarriers. Junior college transfer Dreamius Smith is back after rushing for 494 yards and five touchdowns in his first season in Morgantown and Buie, who led the team in rushing two years ago, returns for his junior campaign.
And, it doesn't end there.
Texas native Dustin Garrison appears to be back to full health and could make a legitimate run at the starting running back slot and University of Pittsburgh transfer Rushel Shell has already begun to make a name for himself this spring.
"I knew coming in this year that everyone is fighting for a spot," Smith explained. "It's a huge competition. We just treat it like it's ours. You just have to be the person to work the hardest.
"We're going to keep working hard every practice, executing plays and doing everything we can."
A theme that appears to be catching with every player this spring.
"Everyday there's improvement," said Holgorsen. "The thing I like is their energy. Every single practice they've been very spirited. Hopefully, we can keep that up. Spring practice does get to be a little redundant, but we've done some different things, and we've got a lot of guys who are having a good time competing.
"They're in the right frame of mind. We're going to show improvement each and every time we get out here. I've been pleasantly surprised with the amount of energy that these guys have been playing with."
A lot of that improvement has been on the offensive front where redshirt seniors Quinton Spain (left) and Mark Glowinski (right) have locked down the two guard slots and sophomore Tyler Orlosky tops the depth chart at center while junior Marquis Lucas (right) and sophomore Adam Pankey (left) top the list at tackle.
"It's too early to tell, but we're gelling a lot better," said Pankey. "Our communication is getting a lot better. We're just taking everything a day at a time."
Even the defense is working hard at improving its communication.
"One of the things you absolutely have to do is communicate, and that's what we're trying to do," senior associate head coach Tom Bradley said. "Communication is the very first thing. Nobody huddles anymore. Everybody has to know the signals that's the way the game is played now.
"You're forcing everybody to limit and change the ways that they do things, because you just can't do all of them due to the changes."
West Virginia will hold its third, and final, open practice at 12:45 p.m. Saturday at the University of Charleston's Laidley Field. The annual Gold/Blue Scrimmage will take place at Milan Puskar Stadium beginning at 1 p.m. on Saturday, April 12.